IN THE KITCHEN Valentina Akyol and her husband, Levent, opened their first Gyro Kebab House on Route 1 in Norwood in 2015, and followed that up with their newest storefront in Needham this January. Levent originally hails from Izmir, Turkey, while Valentina comes from Russia, southeast of Siberia. Levent is the chef and has been cooking for more than 35 years, including in restaurants in Turkey and New York City. “Many people in the Turkish community know him,” Akyol said. Her background, meanwhile, includes culinary management university in Moscow and further culinary education in New York.
The Akyols have been married 19 years and live in Sharon. Their three children — Lara, 15, Aegea, 11, and Aria, 4 — help around the restaurants whenever they have a chance. “It’s a family business at this point,” Akyol said.
THE LOCALE Gyro Kebab House is on Great Plain Avenue in Needham just off the intersection with Chestnut Street. “A lot of our customers would travel to Norwood from Needham and Newton,” said Akyol, citing Turkish, Russian, and Armenian populations in the area. At the same time, an increasing number of people are acquainted with Turkish and Mediterranean cuisines, she said.
The counter-service establishment, display cases filled with temptations, has only five small circular tables, so takeout might be the preferable option, although the bright space is also a nice, even serene spot to meet for a casual meal.
ON THE MENU The menu at the Needham location is nearly identical to that in Norwood, aside from the lack of Turkish-style pizzas, mainly due to space constraints — it would have been difficult to fit the necessary oven, according to Akyol.
A mixed vegetarian appetizer plate ($13 for four choices) proved irresistible during our visit. The options include familiar, well-executed Mediterranean staples such as hummus, babaganush, taboulih, tzatziki, stuffed grape leaves, and falafel. We also tried lebni, a thick, strained yogurt dressed up with garlic, dill and a smattering of walnuts; eggplant divinely drenched in tomato sauce; and another spicier tomato sauce spliced with green peppers, garlic, onions, and parsley. They’re served with a round, flat Turkish flatbread; given the size and scoopability of the platter, a second piece would have been appreciated.
Per Akyol, and as the name of the establishment implies, “We are pretty much famous for our gyro,” which wraps grilled meats inside warmed Turkish bread with lettuce and tomatoes. We opted for juicy grilled chicken ($10) and kofte ($10), spiced Turkish meatballs. Gyros come with a sizable portion of french fries and sides of tzatziki and spicy sauce, and left plenty for another meal.
The other half of the establishment’s name, kebabs, are premarinated in a blend of Turkish spices and grilled upon order. Kebab plates ($12 and up) come with bulgur wheat and a shepherd’s salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and parsley; grilled meats can top any salad as well. Chicken shish kebabs have proved especially popular in Needham, Akyol said, adding that the restaurant cooks with halal meats and doesn’t use pork.
In addition to selling bottled beverages, the establishment brews Turkish coffee — “it’s like espresso-style coffee with a completely different aroma,” Akyol said — and a strong, “energizing” black tea.
It takes an enormous amount of willpower to neglect dessert, especially as baklava perches in a display case right next to the register — so why fight the urge? There are walnut, pistachio, chocolate, and coconut varieties of the famed flaky pastry ($2 for one piece, $6.25 for four). There’s also rice pudding and milk pudding known as kazandibi.
For diners seeking an opportunity to try a range of Turkish cuisine — or to return to some favorites — Gyro Kebab House is a sweet, friendly little addition to the neighborhood.
Gyro Kebab House, 1056 Great Plain Ave., Needham, 781-444-8000, www.gyrokebabhouse.com .Rachel Lebeaux can be reached at [email protected].